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Topic: Appreciation

HR Trends to Adjust to the New Normal - Motivating remote workforce using recognition programs

Author: Ankita Poddar

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Over the past few years, the focus on recognition encouraged organizations to experiment with a variety of ideas. Popular solutions included recognition stations that encouraged employees to pick up and post thank you cards, the wall of fame, rolling mascots that sat proudly atop the winner’s desk, monthly celebration lunches, and more. Then along came a pandemic and overnight, all the above were rendered useless. In the mad scramble that followed in the first few weeks, recognition was the last thing on anyone’s mind. As work slowly began to assume a state of normalcy, some managers remembered recognition. Appreciation now stands at the two edges of the spectrum – either the managers are overdoing it or it is shuttered behind closed doors. Very few managers, if any, have managed to hit the sweet spot. Yet, in a world struggling for connection, purpose and motivation, it is now more important than ever to get this right. Recognition has always and will continue to play an important role in how work is done. Translating recognition into the virtual world should be amongst the top three priorities for HR professionals as they design the future of work.

For the longest time, we touted that recognition in the virtual world is important but must always be supplemented by more. As organizations adopted Facebook like recognition pages, utilization went through sinusoidal curves rarely hitting a steady state. Yet when it is little left apart from virtual, it is time to make it a habit. So how does one translate recognition into the current scenario and one that is likely to stay?

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind while translating recognition for the virtual world:

1. Remember the basics:

While the mode of delivery may demand a transition, the basics of recognition stay the same. It should be timely, precise, and call out the impact. Good recognition comes across as sincere and can be non-monetary. The recognition vehicle should be inclusive giving everyone the power to recognize, it should be simple, easy, and frustration-free. If one has the basics covered, the rest is a cakewalk.

2. Focus on adoption:

Making recognition social and allowing likes (no dislikes) is a smart idea. No wonder almost all organizations have adopted it in some form or the other. Yet unlike social networking, these platforms more often than not fail to draw as much attention. While the adoption may show a spike in the early days' post-release, a year on year study usually reflects swift decline. The key isn’t designing a great platform, though it helps to focus on adoption. Not early adoption but consistent mechanisms that will keep employees coming back. Integrating recognition into your company’s homepage and customizing it to reflect recognition handed out and work anniversaries is far more effective than a standalone recognition platform. Find out habits that employees already indulge in and fold in recognition into those. Having them click on another website is also one extra step that they might never take. The other option is to incorporate big or small nudges. Maybe block some time on everyone’s calendar every week to nudge them to reflect on whether they’d like to recognize someone.

3. Support their cause:

If you have the budget, hold on to it for just a moment longer. There’s a better way to make recognition memorable and meaningful than awarding points and gift cards. Asking employees to donate for causes isn’t always effective. How about making recognition about doing some good? Research shows that kindness and donating to a cause has a direct impact on levels of happiness. Allow team members which cause they would like to donate to and then allow the collected points/gift cards to be redirected accordingly. You can also add in a layer to share how much each charity received every month and thank you notes from them to the individuals. This isn’t done enough but I can guarantee, now more than ever, that it will bring more satisfaction than handing out gift cards. Try it.

4. Impromptu time off:

This is by far my favorite award. Studies during the past few months have shown that while productivity has not taken a drastic dip, utilization of time off has. Besides, encouraging employees to take time off work has always been a problem so this is one change that you can carry into normal times too. When a manager recognizes someone in the team, they get an extra day off that they need to take within the next two weeks else it lapses. In an ideal state, it is within the same week but two weeks works too. Maybe send along a care package for added measure.


However while these are some ideas that are fun to implement, it is important to remember that recognition does not equal rewards. Or the other way round for that matter. Innumerable managers believe that giving away cash or related monetary or experiential awards equals recognition. Handing out gift cards is all that an employee needs to feel recognized. Sorry to ruin the illusion but it does not. If you do not combine it with thoughtful appreciation, a gift card at the end of the day remains just that – a gift card. Sure, the employee will feel happy for a moment but that is hardly recognizable. On the flip side, managers believe that recognition alone is not enough, it must be accompanied by a gift. If gift cards, cash, points, and experiences were the silver bullet, believe me, recognition would hardly be discussed as much as it is. It is because they alone never work that we need endless web articles discussing what it takes to deliver effective recognition. Pure honest, well-crafted words are more effective than a cruise across the Nile. I know it sounds impossible but if you have managed people long enough, you know.

At the end of the day, the “new normal” isn’t going to impact recognition as much. Yes, several modes of deliveries that proved effective in the past are no longer available but emails, team calls, all hands, and company homepages still are. One hopes that we will be able to leverage those again but until then if you focus on the basics and adoption, you will be golden. 

This is the first in a four-part series discussing how existing practices may or may not need to change to translate into the new world.

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